CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Like ACC men’s basketball? Good news: you’re about to get more of it.
ACC commissioner John Swofford announced on Wednesday at the conference’s media day that starting for the 2019-20 season, the ACC will go from 18 to 20 conference games.
Not only that, but the league will start the season with intra-conference matchups in November as part of a seven-game tip-off event to get the college basketball season underway.
“We’ve talked a lot about how do you tip off the basketball season in a way that you kick off the football season?” Swofford posed.
It’s an interesting question. The early part of the college basketball season has become a wasteland for interesting matchups. Basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy reported on Tuesday that there will be 52 matchups between a Division I team and a Division II or III team on the opening night of the 2018-19 season, a record.
On opening night, there is a grand total of two games between ranked teams: No. 10 Michigan State will play No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky will play No. 4 Duke. Both of those will be played at a neutral site.
The only on-campus game played between major conference opponents will be Florida at Florida State.
Of course, it’s not easy to schedule big games early in the season. Coaches want more time to get a feel for their teams and athletic directors that want to maximize ticket sales would probably rather wait until after football season.
So the solution Swofford and the ACC came up with was to take the decision out of their hands. Next year, all 15 ACC teams will start their season with a big-time matchup, with seven conference games, played in campus arenas, and one high-quality non-conference matchup. Surprisingly, the coaches seemed to have gone right along with the plan.
“They bought into the idea pretty readily, actually,” Swofford said.
“It’s exciting,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “I mean, with the ACC Network coming, look, we’re already the most visible league in the country. And it’s going to become even more visible.
“I don’t think any coach will think you’re ready for an ACC game to start. But I think for a player it’s exciting. Look, you want to play in big games, and every ACC game is a big game. And the greater the challenge, the more difficult the challenge, you get to find out a lot about your team early and see exactly where you are early.”
The ACC Network’s 2019 launch was certainly part of the thought process for the conference in adding two more league games. The second additional set of conference game will also happen before the holiday break, likely in December.
“Having our own channel is a factor in that, because we need quality inventory and there’s nothing of any higher quality, generally speaking, than two ACC basketball teams playing each other,” Swofford said. “I think there are a lot of reasons to do a 20-game schedule even without television. Television adds another reason to do so. Probably makes it a little tougher on the coaches. But I suspect most of you welcome that. I think fans welcome that.”
But Capel said while the coaches might not feel like there teams will be ready for the prime time spotlight on Day One, there can be useful coaching lessons learned by playing a quality opponent early in the season.
“One of the great things about it is you’re able to make some decisions, to see what it is you need to work on, to see maybe what you’re pretty good at and to figure it out,” he said. “By the time you get to the second ACC game maybe you’re a little bit better, hopefully you’re a little bit better.”
Pitt will open its 2018-19 season against Youngstown State on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at Petersen Events Center. This season, the Panthers won’t play another major conference opponent until their eighth game, when they visit Iowa on Nov. 27. The first time a big-time opponent will come to thePete will be the start of conference play, when North Carolina visits on Jan. 5.